SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Despite the ongoing pandemic, the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System’s graduation rate went up nearly 2%  last academic year.

The rise from 87.8% to 89.7% during the 2019-2020 school year surpasses Georgia’s graduation rate for the sixth year in a row, according to numbers from the Georgia Department of Education.

The state’s graduation rate is 83.8%, and the most recently published national rate from the 2017-2018 academic year is 85%.

Bernadette Ball-Oliver, SCCPSS’s associate superintendent of secondary schools and athletics, attributes the school system’s success to the hard work of principals, counselors, teachers and advisors.

“They put a lot of attention on making sure that students are in the right classes, that they are receiving the support structures they need when they’re struggling, but that they’re also monitoring them to make sure that they’re successful in mastering the standards so that they’re able to attain the course credit,” Ball-Oliver told WSAV NOW.

“They take pretty much a ‘No Child Left Behind’ stance when it comes to graduation rates, so every school has a graduation team and they really zero in and focus on not just making sure that the data is accurate, but making sure they’re supporting every student — those that are being successful as well as those that are struggling,” she said.

Last school year, eight of 11 SCCPSS high schools either improved their cohort graduation rate over the previous school year or remained the same, the Georgia Department of Education’s data shows.

SCCPSS’s overall four-year cohort graduation rates range from 76.4% to 100%.

Beach High School saw the largest increase last school year, raising its cohort graduation rate by 5.3 points. Meanwhile, Islands High School’s grad rate went up by 4.4 points, and Jenkins High School’s rate rose by 4 points.

The School of Liberal Studies at Savannah High School along with Windsor Forest High School saw increases of 3.8% and 3.7%, respectively, and New Hampstead High School’s rate rose to 94.5%.

Georgia has some of the highest requirements in the country for students to graduate with a regular diploma, and Ball-Oliver says SCCPSS’s requirements are a bit higher than the state’s.

“We have to meet the minimum requirements as established by the state, but we can exceed that,” she said, adding, “Typically, pre-COVID-19, we actually require an additional unit of credit more than what the state requires.”

Ball-Oliver says SCCPSS also requires additional foreign language requirements, along with successful completion of four units of English and four units of math. “We really are about students meeting high expectations and being prepared for college and/or a career,” she said.

During the 2019-2020 academic year, two SCCPSS schools out of less than 20 across the state earned a 100% graduation rate. 

For Savannah Early College High, it’s the fifth consecutive year that the school has met this goal, and the fourth year in a row for Woodville Tompkins Technical and Career High School.

Ball-Oliver praised leaders at the local high schools for managing to achieve these high graduation rates despite an interruption to traditional learning last spring due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I think those teams really deserve a round of applause for all of the creative ways they developed to engage our students and to keep them engaged across the finish line,” she said.

Georgia calculates a four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, as required by federal law. That rate is the number of students who graduate in four years with a regular high school diploma divided by the number of students who form the adjusted cohort for the graduating class, according to SCCPSS.

From the start of ninth grade, students who are first entering high school form a cohort that is subsequently adjusted by adding any students who transfer into the cohort over the next three year-period, and subtracting any students who transfer out. 

While all states use the same calculation, each individual state sets its own requirements for students to earn a regular high school diploma.